Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unity and disagreement

When I was in the army, there was only one Christian fellowship in the garrison where I was stationed. The official Norwegian Lutheran church ran a chapel, and a Lutheran priest was employed by the military to hold service every week, which was all Lutheran psalms and liturgy. However, many of the young soldiers that attended the church, like myself, were not Lutheran at all. We were Baptists, Roman Catholics, followers of different protestant traditions, and non-denominational Christians. Yet, we all shared the same bread and wine, we all sung the same songs, and we all ate the same waffles. It was beautiful.

Many of the best discussions I’ve had were in the discussion group in that chapel. The discussion group was open for everybody, and many that showed up weren’t Christians at all, but adhered to different spiritualities, to quasi-philosophical agnosticism, or even atheism. Much to learn and much waffles to consume. I really got to know a lot of good hearts in those discussions. Honest hearts. We were not united in beliefs, far from so; but in mutual respect we built something as rare as a unity in heart. It was not a perfect heart; but I believe we were headed in the right direction. Those of us who simultaneously were intentional in seeking Jesus’ heart, were amazed how these discussions brought such light to our quest. Or at least I was.

I fell in love with unity.

So I was distressed when the Catholic Church didn’t want to share in communion with me. And as I left the army and moved to Pittsburgh, I was heartbroken to find that the Lutheran church, which I had come to love so much, didn’t want to share communion with me unless I was Lutheran, or at least something close. I probably could have passed the “test,” but then what I loved about the church was lost. On top of this, in a non-denominational church of the faith-movement I visited, they didn’t allow undergraduates to share in communion. Nowhere, it seemed, did they acknowledge me. I was rejected.

Mark 14:17-25 (NIV)
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"

"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

Look at it: Even Judas Iscariot was allowed in communion. Man, if Judas Iscariot was allowed communion, then who should not be? And imagine the atmosphere at the table. Everybody is suspicious towards everybody. So much tension... Is it Peter that is going to betray Jesus? After all, Jesus called him Satan just a few chapters ago. Is it Simon the revolutionary zealot? Or Matthew the tax collector? It surely is not I, is it? Suspicion. Mistrust. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. Because Jesus himself is what communion is about. It is not about the agreements between those who partake in it. Rather, communion is about looking past the disagreement in style, looking past disagreement in politics, and looking past disagreement in doctrine. Even looking past our suspicion that the other partakers are betraying Christ and his ideals. It is about looking past the dust and focusing everything on Christ himself. That is communion. That it is beautiful.

In the last weeks, I have realized this is difficult. You know those fundamentalist Christians that just make you so ashamed of your faith? Like when televangelist Jerry Falwell in October 2004 boldly proclaimed his support of the Iraq war: “You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops and I am for the President — chase them all over the world, if it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” How can I invite such a man to communion with me? Can I partake in communion with him? Really? Fact is I can’t stand the man, by knowing nothing more than that very quote. I just can’t. He repulses me, and I am highly suspicious he is betraying Jesus big-time. I do not want to be associated with that man. At all.

But pause for a moment. Is it not sad how I have made myself such a demonized image of Falwell? I most certainly am doing the man injustice. What do I really know about his heart? Well, nothing. I am still suspicious, sure, and I do not expect to agree with him in much. I am allowed to disagree; I am allowed to be suspicious. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. (though sharing with Falwell truly is a tough reputational sacrifice)

What do you say: Jehovah’s Witness claims that Jesus is just one of several expressions of God. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Hard core Calvinists claims that God does not love everybody. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Are they not worshipping a different God altogether?

Should we draw a line?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives the book of Mormon equal weight as the Bible. The Adventist church is obsessed with the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. The Catholic churches pray to saints. Churches of the faith-movement emphasise emotional experiences. Some churches show signs with “God hates fags.” Some churches do that. Some churches do this. Churches disagree on everything, even on Jesus himself. And the churches are allowed to disagree. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless.

Say we actually draw a line. That man is allowed communion, this man is not. That man is one of us true Christians, this man is not. By doing so, are we not making ourselves judges? Jesus himself, the only one righteous to judge, did not.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a good discussion. I am all for confronting views such as “we should blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” It was trough discussion (which surely was heated at times) that we gained this rare unity in the army chapel. It was through honest struggles with challenging questions we shed light on our path to a kingdom heart. But even as we usually ended up disagreeing at some point, we shared the waffles nevertheless.

How much more, then, should the church be able to share communion, we who all are intentionally seeking the heart of Christ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Move left - left arrow
Move right - right arrow
Move down - down arrow
Rotate - up arrow

Pause - p
Restart - r

Warm thanks to David Kosbie for teaching me this, and for providing JComponents and stuff that are too advanced for me right now.

(If you don't get it to work, try double-clicking inside the applet. If it still doesn't work, switch browser. If it still doesn't work, download the game to your computer (link below). If it still doesn't work, download java and try all this again. If it still doesn't work, buy a Mac)

More: Tetris
Play offline: Download Tetris

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beauty and justice

So what is all this talk about beauty? Isn’t it equally important to be just, and doesn’t justice look rough sometimes? Ok, justice may look rough sometimes. And justice may be good and necessary. It makes sense for a good God to exercise justice. But even God, which he himself is fully just, have problems making justice beautiful. You see, justice is hard and painful, and only has losers. (I think this is because justice only is required because of sin and ugliness in the first place.) Hence, justice is good and necessary, but not beautiful.

But justice is straight out ugly if the judge is guilty. We call it hypocrisy, and society righteously despises it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What has faith got to do with it?

I’ve now submitted my synthesis paper in my class on religion and power. My previous paper in this class was a summary of one of Dawkins’ chapters from The God Delusion, and you can read that in its entirety here on this blog. Sadly, you say, I will not publish my synthesis paper here. Let me explain why.

I am simply not at peace with distributing the synthesis paper as it is right now. It is not so much the style issues I am worried about, nor do I worry about my academic analysis of the positions I am synthesising; it is not the quality of the paper I am concerned with. But frankly, I am not sure if I am being totally honest; I am not sure if I am fair, because I searched for what I wanted to find, I dug, and I found it. I need to feel more solid ground beneath my feet before you can all read it.

Nevertheless, I’ll give you the short version of my thoughts, without all the quotes and different authors and positions and that jazz. It is like the paper without the academic evidence. And only dealing with the Christian case. And more personal. In short, a more sincere heartsong. So, what has faith got to do with it?

But wait! What has faith got to do with what? Well, with religion and power of course. More precisely, what is faith, and how does your answer to that question affect your view on the relationship between the church and political institutions? For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the church to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the church could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

In my personal Christian terminology, the body of all believers is referred to as “the body of Christ,” so in my mind, the church and the body of Christ is equivalent. Therefore, I’ll start off by substituting the word “church” in the hypothetical sentences above:

For instance, a Christian may think it is a good thing for the body of Christ to invest much time and money in politics and lobbyism. Another Christian may think that is the worst thing the body of Christ could do. What is the difference between the faith of the first one and the second one?

I mean, are these two Christians really part of the same body? They may have a somewhat similar vision of the future world, but they are headed in two profoundly different directions to get there. It seems to me as though there are two bodies of Christ, then. (So I’d love to ask, which of these bodies looks the most like Jesus? But I won’t really emphasise that question, it’s slightly off the point.)

This black and white analysis is of course not accurate at all. And neither is my next assumption, namely that faith is either factual doctrines, or hope and confidence. Of course, to most believers, faith is both hope, confidence and doctrines. But for the sake of the argument, bear with me.

Faith is many times depicted as knowing something for certain without really knowing it. For instance, young earth creationists argue that we should teach creationism in schools because that is what Genisis seems to suggest (at least by the literal interpretation these guys pledge to). They are pretty certain this literal interpretation is about what happened back then, so they rule out guided evolution and Big Bang as scientific non-sense. You see, to them, faith is to take the Bible seriously – and by seriously, they mean literally. Faith has become this exercise to believe in something they really have no reason to believe, the Bible aside. The same can be said for moral truths; “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that homosexuality is sin,” and “If you take the Bible seriously, you understand that abortion is murder” etc. In this version of faith, to take the bible seriously has become to believe in certain historical and moral doctrines.

My guess is that most young Christians today that vote against homosexual marriages do so because it is part of their moral doctrine, not because they are homophobic.

The other version of faith is described as hope and confidence. In this version of faith, doctrines are less important, and having faith is really more about living in the hope and confidence that God will provide. This is the kind of faith we find when people are “taking a step in faith” and do something even when they cannot predict the outcome; sometimes they even have little to fall back on. Such faith can make a believer change his career plans, humble himself to ask for forgiveness in difficult situations, pray for random people on the street or open his house to strangers; this faith is confident that God forgives the past, and is living in hope for a world were God reigns and the lion sleeps with the lamb.

To me, it seems like the two faces of faith have little in common. Can they really be the same thing? Some even argue they are completely distinct. I can only examine myself, and find that I probably have a little of both. But, and this is the main point of the entire blog post, I strive to emphasise hope and confidence, because that is where the beauty in faith is found. What is beautiful about being certain the world was created 6000 years ago? Nothing! What is beautiful about being certain homosexuality is sin? Nothing, nothing, nothing is beautiful about being certain of other people’s sin! Nothing!

Being aware of your own sins, on the other hand, is quite useful. You need to acknowledge your sin if you want to be cleansed and beautified. That is what repentance is all about! But the process of beautification is first and foremost a fight with your own demons. As Jesus so wisely put it, “first take the plank out of your own eye.” This is why I believe there are so many moral guidelines in the Bible; not because being certain of the truth to them is a point in itself, but because we in the process of beautification sometimes need to be remained of what we are up against. And so can we struggle with were we find ourselves.

This focus on hope and confidence - life - of faith, also has another particular merit to it worth of mention: It allows for a much more honest discussion of the Bible, without shaking the foundation of faith. For instance, if someone has difficulties reconciling the creation story of the Bible with their scientific worldview, this can now be discussed without putting their entire faith at stake. If someone struggles with the passages condemning homosexuality, now at least it doesn’t shake their foundation of faith.

Finally, I argue this approach makes one less inclined to fight politically, for two reasons: The first being precisely that moral and historical truths are more ambiguous and open to discussion. To clarify: You may of course still argue this and that politically, but you are more hesitant to attribute these opinions to Jesus and his body of believers. The second reason is this: if faith is to give up life to be fully beautiful in hope and confidence that God provides, then you have all these planks to fight before you would even think of the sawdusts of those other people. You still have a moral and factual platform, sure; but exactly what that looks like is not a question you care too much to answer. “Rather,” you say, “ask what is the most beautiful thing to do right now.”

Read more:
Warrior of Agape: Why Dawkins is so hostile